The Trump tax returns

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee released six years of former President Trump’s tax returns yesterday. Politico has posted them here. When the New York Times followed up with an emailed notice that it had published “Key Takeaways From Trump’s Tax Returns” with a “running list of insights” by three reporters, I took a look at their findings.

Carter Page was under intrusive federal surveillance by the national security establishment for at least two years with no effect other than the groundless violation of his privacy. My thought was that Page must be the cleanest man in America (and that the FBI should pay a big price for what it did to him). Something of the same thought occurs to me about the Trump tax returns as filtered through the consciousness of the three Times reporters.

“Insight” number 1: Trump made no charitable contributions in 2020: “The tax documents released Friday show that Mr. Trump reported charitable donations totaling nearly $1.9 million in 2017 and just over $500,000 in both 2018 and 2019.” Why might he have skimped in 2020? “[A]s the pandemic recession swiftly descended, Mr. Trump reported heavy business losses and no federal tax liability.” Maybe that had something to with it.

“Insight” number 2: In a bad year for business, Trump didn’t take a full refund. Need we say more? The Times reporters do, but not much.

“Insight’ number 3: His own tax law may have cost him: Need we say more? In this case, I would say that Trump appears to have done what he thought was best for the country without regard to the impact on him, but that’s not what the Times reporters say.

“Insight” number 4: Fred Trump is a silent actor in the returns: I put this in the category of “big whoop.”

“Insight” number 5: A new tax firm got involved in 2020: I take this as a sign of the price that professionals representing Trump were paying for the business. Otherwise, I put this in the category of “big whoop.”

“Insight” number 6: Republicans are threatening retaliation: This doesn’t provide any “insight” into Trump or his taxes. In my accounting, however, it’s the good news.

The AP has a longer story on what is to be found in the returns. The AP has eight reporters — count ’em — on the story. With all those reporters the AP digs up a NYU tax professor for quotes including “The return doesn’t say, ‘Guess what? I’m committing fraud,’ but there are red flags” and “There’s fishy looking stuff here.” How did the Times miss this guy?

The AP story also digs up a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center who comments: “Trump seems to be creating huge losses that are suspicious or questionable under current law.” Is that the best you’ve got? No, it is not. The Urban-Brookings man also serves up this gem: “To me, Trump’s business operations were phenomenally unsuccessful and I struggle to figure out how much of it is attributable to Trump’s unluckiness as a businessman and how much of it is attributable to Trump’s inflation.” Struggle on, brother!

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